Objective To investigate whether population based primary prevention (risk factor reduction in apparently healthy people) might be more powerful than current government initiatives favouring risk factor reduction in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) (secondary prevention).
Design, setting, and participants The IMPACT model was used to synthesise data for England and Wales describing CHD patient numbers, uptake of specific treatments, trends in major cardiovascular risk factors, and the mortality benefits of these specific risk factor changes in healthy people and in CHD patients.
Results Between 1981 and 2000, CHD mortality rates fell by 54%, resulting in 68 230 fewer deaths in 2000. Overall smoking prevalence declined by 35% between 1981 and 2000, resulting in approximately 29 715 (minimum estimate 20 035, maximum estimate 44 675) fewer deaths attributable to smoking cessation: approximately 5035 in known CHD patients and approximately 24 680 in healthy people. Population total cholesterol concentrations fell by 4.2%, resulting in approximately 5770 fewer deaths attributable to dietary changes (1205 in CHD patients and 4565 in healthy people) plus 2135 fewer deaths attributable to statin treatment (1990 in CHD patients, 145 in people without CHD). Mean population blood pressure fell by 7.7%, resulting in approximately 5870 fewer deaths attributable to secular falls in blood pressure (520 in CHD patients and 5345 in healthy people) plus approximately 1890 fewer deaths attributable to antihypertensive treatments in people without CHD. Approximately 45 370 fewer deaths were thus attributable to reductions in the three major risk factors in the population: some 36 625 (81%) in people without recognised CHD and 8745 (19%) in CHD patients.
Conclusions Compared with secondary prevention, primary prevention achieved a fourfold larger reduction in deaths. Future CHD policies should prioritise population-wide tobacco control and healthier diets.